Some days we all need a bit of cheering up. Maybe we watch our favourite movie, eat our favourite foods, or hang out with our favourite people. These are all great ways to lift a mood, but could the answer be deeper than doing a pleasurable activity? Maybe it’s about perspective and the way we think about things? Perhaps gratitude has a role to play?
At some point, we were all taught to say please and thank you. Being thankful for good things in our lives is one of the social norms many of us observe. And it’s nice to be grateful for something, it feels good and kind to do.
But what effect does it have on how happy we feel, both in the moment and in our lives in general? The relationship between gratitude and happiness has been explored in research, science, and popular culture and the case for one affecting the other is relatively strong.
Gratitude Can Help Improve Your Mental Health
Melanie Greenberg PhD discusses the benefits of gratitude and how it can help lead to a better life. As she said:
“Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brain’s natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negative aspects of life. As such, gratitude creates positive emotions, like joy, love, and contentment, which research shows can undo the grip of negative emotions, like anxiety.”
By focusing on the positive things in life, and being thankful for them, we are better able to experience more positive feelings, and thus focus on being in good mental health. Furthermore, practising gratitude consistently over time can become a useful coping skill when facing anxiety or depression.
This is especially pertinent in today’s climate, where the news is filled with negative realities that can get you down. By focusing on gratitude, whether that’s making a list of the things you’re thankful for or simply appreciating something in the moment, your mental health can be vastly improved, and better able to deal with more of the hardships in life.
Gratitude Can Make You More Optimistic
Research on gratitude is extensive and complex.Two psychologists conducted a study on gratitude and split participants into three groups. One group spent a week writing things they were thankful for, the second group wrote down the things that irritated them, and the third group recorded things that had impacted them, good or bad. Results showed that the group writing down thankful things were more optimistic about the future and their lives. In addition to that, they exercised more and had fewer visits to physicians than those who focused on sources of aggravation.
Even their physical health was impacted by engaging in gratitude. This once again indicates that a prolonged practice of gratitude for the things you have rather than unhappiness at the things you don’t, is beneficial in the long term, personally and socially. This can be hugely helpful in making plans for the future, looking ahead at all the possible things you could be grateful for, rather than focusing on all the things you do not yet have. If anything, optimism has the ability to propel us further to reach our goals.
Gratitude Can Improve Your Relationships
Being thankful and showing your appreciation are endearing qualities that could help to strengthen your relationships. Gratitude can be broken down intothree phases, as noted by Cristen Conger from How Stuff Works: appreciation, goodwill, and expression. A friend gives you an unexpected gift, you feel happy for getting it, then have a desire to do something in return, like expressing your thanks.
Saying thank you and outwardly expressing gratitude is a very positive attribute that improves sociability and lets the people in your life know how thankful you are for them. Moreover, it spreads the possibility of happiness from you to those around you.
This also relates to gift giving. The act of giving a gift to someone that we care about can be as beneficial as receiving something and feeling good about it. Giving a gift, something personalised and meaningful, is also another way to demonstrate gratitude towards another person, and the idea of encouraging a happy feeling in someone else can improve our own well-being. According to the journal of South University:
“There is an enormous sense of satisfaction when seeing the expression on the face of someone you’ve given a gift to. A way to express feelings, giving reinforces appreciation and acknowledgement of each other. The feelings expressed mainly depend on the relationship between giver and recipient.”
Gratitude Can Boost Your Self-Esteem
It’s always easier to focus on the negatives than the positives, but in times of turmoil, when negative and self-deprecating thoughts are circling your mind, it can be helpful to not only list the things you’re grateful for, but also the things you’ve achieved that you are grateful for.Sonja Lyubomirsky writes about gratefulness creating a path towards happiness, and how self-esteem and self-worth can be boosted by it.
“When you realize how much people have done for you or how much you have accomplished, you feel more confident and efficacious.”
This is not an easy task to achieve, but starting small by focusing on one or two things you are proud of or feel happy to have completed, can help provide a small reminder of your value, especially when times are tough.
It is clear that there is a strong relationship between gratitude and happiness, and to some extent, when engaged with genuinely, you cannot have one without the other. Both concepts require authenticity, a real desire to feel thankful and hold on to that feeling, as well as a consistent practice of gratitude to enjoy the benefits and the positive changes they can have in your life.
However, positive thinking is easier said than done; it requires a support network, previous examples of positive moments, and a motivation to take yourself out of negative thinking. Start small by simply creating a mental list about your blessings in life every day and one day it will become a habit.